The tip of the iceberg? Our analysis of manifesto commitments on corruption

28 June, 2024 | 8 minute read

What do UK political parties’ manifestos say about addressing corruption and related issues? In this blog we look at parties’ manifesto commitments on corruption, specifically in the following areas:

  • Improving standards in public life
  • Keeping dirty money out of political party finance
  • Tackling money laundering and using sanctions effectively
  • Improving the court system
  • Ensuring accountable and effective public services and spending.

This blog covers the manifestos of parties which won more than 1% of the UK vote in the 2019 General Election: the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Green Party and Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party). If a party is not mentioned under any of these policy areas, their manifesto did not cover it. 

What do manifestos say about improving standards in public life?

Improving standards in public life is essential to preventing corruption and restoring public trust in politics, which is at record lows

Labour says the UK requires a “reset” in our public life to ensure the “highest standards of integrity and honesty”. The party plans to achieve this by:

  • establishing a new “Ethics and Integrity Commission”, with an independent chair,
  • reviewing and updating rules for those leaving government, and 
  • enforcing restrictions” on Ministers who lobby for companies they used to regulate, with “meaningful sanctions” for those who break the rules. 

Labour also say they would restrict MPs from having second jobs by banning them from taking paid advisory or consultancy roles, and set up a “modernisation committee” that would, among other things, be tasked with “driving up standards”, as well as undertaking work on possible further restrictions on MPs’ second jobs.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats meanwhile commit to give the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests – tasked with advising the Prime Minister on breaches of the Ministerial Code – more powers. 

Labour says it would give the Adviser powers to start investigations into misconduct and ensure they have access to the evidence they need. 

The Liberal Democrats commit to placing the Independent Adviser role and the Ministerial Code on a statutory footing and empowering the Adviser to:

  • initiate their own investigations”, 
  • determine breaches” and 
  • publish reports”. 

Under Liberal Democrat plans, Parliament rather than the Prime Minister would appoint the Adviser. 

The Liberal Democrats and the Greens both make commitments on lobbying. 

The Liberal Democrats pledge to “strengthen” and “expand” the lobbying register as well as to end “Government by WhatsApp” by publishing a record of all lobbying of Ministers via instant messages, emails, letters and phone calls in quarterly transparency releases. 

The Liberal Democrats add that they would give Ministers annual training to prevent “sleaze”, establish a “rigorous, transparent and independent process” for significant public appointments, with a confirmatory vote by the relevant select committee in Parliament, and harmonise reporting of Ministers’ interests with the House of Commons register of interests.

The Greens commit to “strengthen” transparency rules on political lobbying and make the work of think tanks more transparent.

Finally, Reform UK commits to establishing a “Westminster Anti-Corruption Unit” that would, among other things, close the “revolving door between government and big business” and address potential conflicts of interest”.  

What do manifestos say about ensuring the integrity of political party finance?

The risk of dirty money polluting our politics which independent experts have highlighted as a major issue undermines the integrity of our democracy. 

Labour says it would “protect democracy” by “strengthening the rules around donations to political parties”. 

The Liberal Democrats commit to “protect” and “strengthen” the Electoral Commission’s independence and make it a national security priority to protect the UK’s democratic processes from “threats or interference”. They also would cap donations to political parties to remove “big money” from politics.

Finally, the Greens say they would restore the Electoral Commission’s power to prosecute, and remove the cap on Electoral Commission fines for political parties’ electoral law breaches.

What do manifestos say about tackling money laundering? 

The UK, as a major financial centre, and its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories (CDOTs), have long been attractive destinations for laundering dirty money

The Liberal Democrats say they would stop oligarchs from corrupt regimes channelling their money through the UK by “properly resourcing” the National Crime Agency (NCA), closing “loopholes” in economic crime legislation and using sanctions to effectively tackle economic crime. 

The SNP also commits to press the UK government to ensure sanctions against Russia are effective.  

Meanwhile Labour says it would work with “allies and international financial centres” to tackle corruption and money laundering. 

The Conservatives commit to “intensify” the fight to stop money laundering and ensure all CDOTs adopt open registers of beneficial ownership. 

While more focused on “foreign gang crime” than corruption, Reform UK among other things commits to increasing the NCA’s budget in order to tackle money laundering by organised crime.

The Liberal Democrats and Labour both commit to protect whistleblowers; the former by establishing a new Office of the Whistleblower and creating new legal protections and awareness of whistleblowers’ rights, and the latter by strengthening the rights and protections available for whistleblowers in the workplace. 

What do manifestos say about improving the court system?

The backlog in the courts is a major issue for court cases involving corruption and economic crime more widely, with key cases subject to significant delays.

Most parties make commitments to tackle the court backlog. Labour says it would ensure more availability for prosecutors by allowing Associate Prosecutors to work on “appropriate cases”. 

The Conservatives say they would deal with the backlog by: 

They also commit to digitising court processes and expanding the use of remote hearings, as well as to “match fund” 100 criminal law pupillages.

The Liberal Democrats say they would halve the time from offence to sentencing for all criminals, with a “properly funded strategy” across the criminal justice system. They would also develop a workforce strategy to ensure sufficient numbers of criminal barristers, judges and court staff, and enable all victims to request a transcript of court proceedings free of charge.  

The Greens commit to major investment of £2.5 billion to “repair” and “renew” the court system, with £11 billion investment in “restoring” the Ministry of Justice budget during the next parliament.

Finally, Reform UK commits to increase the budget for criminal justice from what it says is £10 billion to £12 billion in order to “ensure more high calibre staff” and “cut delays”. 

What do manifestos say about ensuring accountable and effective public services and spending? 

Effective and accountable public services – including key law enforcement agencies investigating and enforcing breaches of the UK’s anti-corruption laws – are crucial to tackling the UK’s role in corruption.

The Conservatives say they would make government “more efficient”, “cut waste” and “attract the best and the brightest” to public service, by: 

  • returning the civil service to its pre-pandemic size (to pay for their commitment to increase defence spending),
  • halving taxpayer money spent on external consultants and introducing controls on all ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ initiatives and spending, and 
  • opening up civil service recruitment by requiring jobs to be advertised externally to identify the best candidates.

The Conservatives commit to “improve standards” in councils by making their performance more transparent through the Office for Local Government. Labour similarly commits to provide capacity and support to councils, and says it would “overhaul” the local government audit system to give taxpayers better value for money. 

On the same theme, Labour says it would “safeguard” taxpayers’ money and end a perceived link between access to ministers and an “inside track” for public contracts with no tolerance for “fraud or waste”. Through appointing a fixed-term Covid Corruption Commissioner, Labour say they would seek to recoup public money lost in pandemic-related fraud and from other undelivered contracts. 

Labour suggests public services are “suffering” from recruitment and retention “crises”, and that it would “improve public service workers’ living standards” throughout the parliament, ensuring “independent mechanisms” (presumably those relating to public sector pay awards, though this is not explicit) have the “confidence of all involved”.

Relatedly, Labour says it would fund new police recruits by tackling waste through a “Police Efficiency and Collaboration programme” for England and Wales, which would set nationwide standards for procurement. 

The Liberal Democrats say they would develop a national recruitment, training and retention strategy to tackle a “shortage” of police detectives and ensure “fair” pay rises for police officers by making the Police Remuneration Review Body “properly independent” of government.

Reform UK meanwhile says it would ask “why UK infrastructure costs so much more than other countries” and ensure better value for money with “proper, competitive tendering”. The party says it would replace Civil Service leaders with political appointees who are “private sector successful people”. As part of this, the party would “enforce” the Civil Service code of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.

Manifesto commitments on corruption: The elephant(s) in the room

We hope the parties’ manifesto commitments on corruption outlined above are just the tip of the iceberg. If parties are serious about tackling the UK’s role in corruption at home and overseas, they will need to be much bolder and more ambitious than the limited commitments made in their manifestos. 

At the very least, whichever party forms the next government should prioritise two things early on (neither of which features in any manifesto):

  1. urgently appoint a new Anti-Corruption Champion in the first 100 days (the last one resigned in 2022 and was never replaced), and
  2. develop and publish an ambitious Anti-Corruption Strategy in the first six months (the last one expired in 2022).

After the Election, we – with partners in the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition – will set out in more detail what the government should prioritise to address corruption and improve standards in public life for good.

Dog at polling station illustrating article on manifesto commitments on corruption